John Torres was an artist of many skills. He was a painter, and his works on paper are included in many private, corporate and institutional collections.
But it is as a sculptor that he will be best remembered. So it was somehow appropriate that when he died May 30, at age 62, it was during a trip to a marble quarry in Vermont.
Torres was a sculptor in the classical tradition. Like Michelangelo whose evocative marble Old Testament prophets haunt the Academia in Florence, and in whose work it is difficult to determine the point at which the raw, hard stone gives way to a depiction of human flesh, Torres was fascinated by the human form. In Torres' work, that human form was usually feminine.
"He liked the ladies," one of his many friends said last week with a wink.
"There is a lot of homage to the female form in his work born of the sea or water," says Jack Blanton, a Richmond art aficionado whose own collection contains a number of Torres pieces carved from cream, pale gray or white blocks of marble.
"Viewing his sculpture is like seeing ruins from Mesopotamia," Blanton adds. "Salvaged classical ruins that was a reference point. He always let the stone speak to him to determine what he would carve from it."
Torres' work was always strong of line and assured. "He was an accomplished artist and a tenacious artist," Blanton says. "That's the word: tenacious."
If some people thought Torres to be reserved or shy personally, others found him outgoing. "He could give the best parties," says an admirer. "He thought big when he did something, including entertaining: Music was always there." And while he could cook, he'd leave the cleanup to others. "I don't do windows nor dishes," he'd remind his guests.
All who knew him would agree that Torres was elegant, maybe even exotic, with his dark good looks and a black patch over his left eye.
But if the medium of marble spoke to Torres, it was the true artist in him that spoke to hundreds of students and others he touched. With his passionate convictions, he was a teacher who inspired and chided hundreds of Virginians to develop their inherent talents.
He led by example, unflinchingly serious and focused on his own art, but with a true interest in what others had to say. He really listened and heard people.
Torres worked on multiple projects and was generous with his time. Recently, he was beginning the planning phase of collaborative piece working with art students at the Governor's School for Government & International Studies: The goal was a permanent installation sculptural piece at the renovated Maggie L. Walker school building where the regional governor's high school will move in the fall.
But wherever Torres worked, or whatever the age of the student, he never failed to inspire.
One popular Richmond artist last week, who asks not to be identified, recalls that 20 years ago, when she was in her 60s, Torres challenged her: "Where there is talent, there is responsibility." Inspired by his encouragement, she cleared the decks of other things that monopolized her time and started painting regularly. "He affected my life," this artist says. "He changed my life."
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